Civil War relived at fort

Men and women grouped up to participate in a re-enactment of a Civil War battle known as Secessionville at Fort Ontario Saturday Sept. 24. Dressed in authentic uniforms, people involved in the reenactment assumed the lifestyle of American soldiers during the 1860’s.

Re-enactors set up tents and cooked their food over fires in cauldrons. Cannons and firearms used during the Civil War were fired using fake ammo. The men regularly ran drills assuming the life of a real soldier in 1860’s in order to prepare for the show.

Just a few moments into the battle, ‘soldiers’ began falling down and faking their deaths. It became more realistic when the crowd could see just how close the fighting actually was engaged in. Unlike wars today, where our firearms can shoot for much longer ranges, soldiers were forced to fight very close. The actual battle lasted somewhere between nine and 15 minutes.

The spectators of the event were mostly history buffs, families and locals. However, the re-enactors were from all over New York.

“The coolest part of the battle was just feeling the shaking of the ground after the cannons went off,” said Oswego State student Andrew Sheets. “The smoke swirled around and stretched across the field.”

Dale Turner, a captain of his group, has participated in re-enactments for 12 years. His first re-enactment was at Gettysburg and this Civil War re-enactment caught his interest and kept him involved for more than a decade. He does this as a volunteer and did not need an audition to become involved. Turner said that re-enactment is more of a lifestyle than a performance.

“The clothes are uniforms and not costumes,” he said.

There was no standardized uniform for the Confederates. Soldiers wore a Richman gray or regular gray, while those in the artillery wore red. Re-enactors supply their own uniforms, which are “reproductions of original uniforms, some cotton-lined and some lined with wool,” Turner said. Additionally, Turner said that the uniforms, Brogans (shoes), guns, gunpowder and cannons are purchased by the re-enactors. One of the cannons at the fort cost $6,500.

There were also many women at the re-enactment. While very few were on the battlefield, others were taking care of children and talking with friends. Only a Vivandiere would be seen on the battlefield. These were women that stepped in for groups that didn’t have the capital to pay a doctor. Later on in the battle, some Vivandieres actually engaged in battle.

Boys often joined the army at the age of 16, even though the minimum age requirement was 18. Turner said that clever boys would put a slip of paper under their foot in their shoe that said “18.” When asked if the boy was truthful in saying he was 18, he would reply that he would “stand by his statement” which was quite literal.

“It’s fun and all, but it has its moments,” Bramer said. “It can be boring until you talk to people. Big crowds are more fun.”

“Night battles are something you need to see,” Turner said. Turner added that the night battles often are followed by performances from bluegrass bands and dances for the participants.

Katrina Schwartz and Paula Denton were also involved in the re-enactment. Schwartz said a friend got her involved, who in turn got her husband involved, who is now a Commander of the ‘33 Virginia Company’ group, a position he attained after starting as a Private. Schwartz and Denton both sew their own clothes with help from readings and research to find the correct styles.

“Our group is like a family. We’re all friends,” Denton said.

“We spend time together outside of the group,” Schwartz said. “My kids learned a lot. They have an appreciation for the simple things. It’s good for them to learn about history.”


Civil War re-enactors used cannons, swords and firearms to bring the Battle of Secessionville to life in an educational demonstration at Fort Ontario.
From left to right: Hunter Schwartz, Katrina Schwartz, Patrick Schwartz, Cassie Schwartz, Lyssa Strong
Smoke from cannonfire fills the air at the re-enactment of the Battle of Secessionville at Fort Ontario. Volunteers from all across New York came to re-enact the battle.
Dressed in full costume, actors Brendan Bramer (left) Dale Turner (right) participated in the re-enactment.

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